Sunday, May 27, 2007

Kylie Minogue. Showgirl Homecoming Live (2007).

It would seem cold-hearted and simply bad-spirited to be critical of Kylie's new cd after her year of cancer, chemo, and surgery. But there's really nothing to complain about on Kylie's live cd. Kylie's performances are theatrical extravaganzas, and she's always projected well on video. So, understandably, her live performances have been previously documented on dvd. This is her first live cd, a double, documenting the second of a two night stand in Sydney, having come back, "fashionably late," as she puts it, after postponing her Showgirl tour eighteen months before, in 2005. Kylie has a slightly nasal, reedy quality to her upper middle register, but she actually sounds better live than she does on her studio recordings.

If you are a fan of Kylie's well-known tunes, you will know most of these songs pretty well. But this is not a paint-by-numbers collage of greatest hits. Many of the familiar tunes are re-worked with new arrangements. Bono joins Kylie for "Kids," doing the Robbie Williams part, and he puts in a great performance. Kylie was to repay the favor and join Bono at a U2 gig the following night, but she was simply too fatigued after her own shows to perform with them. Her first hit,
"The Locomotion," a bit of a novelty when it was released 20 years ago, has been rearranged as a campy, swinging big band tune. She has a go with a rendition of "Over The Rainbow," and does a fine job with it. There's a medley of Shocked, What Do I Have To Do?, and Spinning Around that's a nonstop disco delight (even if you absolutely hate disco, this is irresistibly uplifting).

The culturally significant hot pants that Kylie wore in this video were on exhibit at the V&A Museum this year:

Kylie doesn't register as much of a player in the US music scene, but to the rest of the world she is a mega superstar. When she was diagnosed, she never "cancelled" her tour, she insisted it was only "postponed," and she was true to her word. Besides being an irresistible, glittery pop star and stylish fashion icon, she is an inspiration, being a survivor of cancer, doomed relationships, and bouts of depression.

Over the decades of her non-stop career, she's earned the adulation of millions of fans, and she deserves it. She has just been named the first woman to ever win Britain's Music Industry Trust award. Kylie will attend a ceremony this October to accept it. David Munn, Chairman of the Awards Committee, said "Kylie deserves this award for her success over 20 years, staying at the top in one of the toughest professions and inspiring millions with her grace, dignity and humanity."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Sean Lennon. The Egg, Albany, April 10, 2007.

Sean Lennon is clearly a gifted crafter of pop songs. He has his own voice, a deft hand at harmony, and is a talented guitarist. His band, decked out in suits and ties, was excellent. Yuka Honda, from the band Cibo Matto, was on keyboards, and is Sean's musical director and close friend. Sean focused on tracks from his newly released, "Friendly Fire" cd. There is a lingering tint of regret to his lyrics, inspired as they were by delicate relationship issues. He actually had a heckler, but he handled it with experienced aplomb. After one of several incoherent outbursts from the impaired audience member, Sean said "We're not really connecting here, but I love you anyway man." The atmosphere was a little tense until the guy was eventually escorted out. Sean's songs are considered compositions, and they bear the mark of deliberation and careful judgement. Here's hoping they bring him comfort, as much as they brought this audience to an appreciation of his abilities.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Jonatha Brooke. The Egg, Albany, April 12, 2007.

In the early 90's my girlfriend played the tape, "The Angel In The House," by The Story in her car. I expressed my admiration, but she said I couldn't appreciate it because it was "women's music." I felt a bit awkward, as if I had stumbled by accident into some Mary Kay party and said, "hey that's a really cool lipstick," before realizing my comments were completely unwelcome.

Anyway, she was wrong. Fifteen years later, I am still a huge fan of Jonatha Brooke. All of her records with The Story and afterwards are on my iPod.

Jonatha played the Egg here once again without her band. Her records are filled out with the whole rock ensemble sound, drums, keys, electric guitars, backup vocals. I was thrilled to hear her again play solo, for two hours, no intermission. Solo, we can really focus on her vocal subtlety, especially the way she pushes and pulls the phrasing of songs we are familiar with from her recordings. Her guitar playing is especially fascinating to hear live. She uses different tunings for almost every song, so she interjects friendly and amusing patter between them, "you're so nice, can I take you to Madison?" Jonatha used two amplified acoustic guitars. She plugged them into a jam-packed effects pedal system that added distortion (so NOT folky!), and sometimes a rich chorus of delay signals that sounded like a synthesized string ensemble. Jonatha's guitar playing is filled with a variety of musical gestures, strumming, harmonics, little riffs, all in a vocabulary of open strings and acid tinged harmonies that Ravel would have admired. She has a new cd, Careful What You Wish For, but she played for the most part familiar favorites. Although her songs deal mostly with tragedy and disappointment, Jonatha smiles throughout her performances and flashes flirty looks into the audience, as if she really wants and needs to connect to us. She needn't worry about that.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Trashcan Sinatras. Mercury Lounge, NYC, April 23, 2005.

I had no expectations of this triple bill, and I was pleasantly surprised by all three. By the end of the night I had found a new band to add to my list of favorites. Elizabeth Harper is a singer/songwriter with the acerbic wit of a Morrissey. She had an appealing and intriguingly quiet, yet edgy stage presence. The Silent League was anything but quiet. A large group, led by keyboardist Justin Russo, they blew through a set of impassioned and classic-sounding chamber pop compositions that were musically and lyrically exhilarating. There was much self-deprecating patter between songs, as when the guitarist said, "Soft rock is hard," at once putting a spin on the famous Barbie quote ("Math is hard!"), and satirizing the category they would most likely be lumped into by some default.

Headlining Scots, Trashcan Sinatras, had their merch being sold by a guy in a kilt up front near the door. The band looked like a bunch of ordinary guys that happened to walk out on stage by accident. After a few songs, I realized I was in the midst of a virtual fan club rally. It seemed most everyone in the room recognized each song from a single guitar strum, and they inevitably sang along to the choruses. I had never heard any of their music, but I was pulled in by the chiming, rolling and spiraling nature of their songcraft. They were in support of their new cd Weightlifting. The main focus of the band is Frank Reader (far left in the pic), a handsome poet in the sensitive/tragic style. If John Lennon and Bryan Ferry got married and had a baby boy, the little tyke would grow up to be Frank Reader - he's that compelling. What astonishes about the tunes on Weightlifting is how they begin with such cast-off nonchalance. After the first verse, you think, "it's not bad, should I fast-forward?" Following a couple of choruses, you think, "oh yeah, this is good." Then about three quarters into the song, you're completely swept away by the undertow of a swirling
3-minute masterpiece of songwriting. And this happens over and over on Weightlifting. By the end of their set I was a believer, and I walked up Broadway in the cold spring rain with a warm feeling for a new favorite.

Trashcan Sinatras. All The Dark Horses:

Friday, May 18, 2007

Electrelane. Bard College, May 2007.

Emails sent ahead of time for directions went unheeded by the insular Bard students, so we asked about 10 people on campus where the concert was before we found the student union. The show, scheduled for 8pm, started a little after 10pm with a band that was supposed to be Tender Forever, but I don't think was. They were very good: cloudy streams of delayed guitar and electronics, minimal percussion and sparse vocals. But they only did 3 songs before The Blow came out, minus one of the Blowers, so it was kind of a solo show. The Blow has a loyal following at Bard, I assume, since half of the crowd was singing along. Khaela entertained us with geeky dance moves and quirky songs about, for example, how uncomfortable it is waking up after a one-night-stand next to someone with a really big head.

Electrelane took the stage shortly after 11pm, and introduced us to songs from their new cd. Their playing was solid and artful, slowing down, speeding up, and extending into locked grooves of colorfully noisy walls of sound that would start and stop with subtle variations. Mia Clarke riffed on a Hagstrom, scraped the strings, and rubbed the fretboard against her Vox AC30, producing squealing feedback. Mia told me afterward that they usually play longer but they were not allowed to play at Bard after midnight. Electrelane are a must-see live, the sound they produce can't be replicated by any recording medium. Definitely worth staying out late on a Monday night to experience!

The Doors. Saratoga Performing Arts Center, September 1, 1968.

The opening band for The Doors was Earth Opera, a bunch of barefoot hippies that no one much wanted to see (but which included the later much esteemed Peter Rowan and Dave Grisman!). The Doors were supporting their third, and I believe finest (I am most certainly alone in that opinion!) record, Waiting For The Sun. They played Light My Fire, When The Music's Over, The End, and their big, fuzzed-out hit from that summer, Hello I Love You.

Hello I Love You was all over the radio that summer. That lyrical hook was later criticized for being inane - but, was it any more so than "Love Me Do?"   I loved the orchestrated fuzz, similar in some ways to the Beatles' single, Revolution, which would come out later that year. Hello had quite a fractured rhythmic groove. The chorus didn't have a straight  backbeat. The 2-bar phrase was cut up and divided into three distinct sequential ideas, with the keyboard and drums  playing in sync. The verse balanced this with the snare being squarely smacked on all 4 beats. Then there was that ghostly slide guitar part out there on its own, just before the coda. It was very reminiscent of the slide part in Hendrix's version of All Along the Watchtower, also released the same year.

Hello I Love You:

Of course, Light My Fire was their first and biggest hit. Coming out in January of 1967, as I just turned 11, it didn't make much of an impression on me.  It just seemed too mature for me to grasp. The mix of baroque, bossa nova, and jazz was beyond me. (My dad, at age 41, LOVED it!). As I listen to it now, the introduction, with its quickly modulating chord progression, is similar to Giant Steps, and that opening must have been a challenge to figure out for kids whose greatest ambition was only to be able to play the riff from Wipe Out, or Daytripper.

Light My Fire:

Coltrane's Giant Steps:

Morrison said nothing to the audience during the concert as I recall. Every song ended in a sudden blackout, and complete silence until the next song started. It was minimal, yet dramatically serious, and very, VERY loud.